Albert Lacombe

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Missionary; b. St. Sulpice, Montreal, Canada, Feb. 28, 1827; d. Midnapore, Alberta, Canada, Dec. 12, 1916. He was the son of Albert and Agathe (Duhamel) Lacombe. After ordination on June 13, 1849, he first exercised his ministry at Pembina, North Dakota (184951) and then returned to Canada as a curate in Berthierville (185152). He offered his services to Bp. Alexandre tachÉ, OMI, of Red River, and went with him to Saint Boniface in 1852. From there he left for Edmonton and worked among the Cree and métis of Lake LaBiche, wintering at Fort Edmonton. In 1853 he took up residence at Lake St. Anne and visited Fort Jasper, and in 1855 he undertook an extensive trip to Small Slave Lake and Peace River. Upon his return to Lake St. Anne he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and made his profession on Sept. 28, 1856. He founded the mission of St. Joachim in Edmonton (1858), and with Taché he determined the site of St. Albert mission, which bears his name (1861). From 1865 to 1872 he roamed the Plains and evangelized the Cree and Black Feet, founding (1866) St. Paul of the Cree in Brosseau, Alberta, the first attempt at agricultural colonization of the natives of the West.

He was named an official government intermediary during Louis riel's revolution (187374), served as pastor in Winnipeg (187480), attended to the care of the construction gangs of the Canadian Pacific railroad, and succeeded in preventing the Black Feet from slaughtering the workers (1883). Because of this he was named president of the Pacific for one hour when the first train arrived in Calgary in 1884. He founded the first industrial school for indigenous peoples at Dunbow, Alberta (1884), and opened a hospital (1893) and a school (1898) at Blood Reserve. From 1886 to 1892 he was a member of the Board of Education of the Northwest Territories. He founded a colony for the métis at St. Paul, Alberta, the source of many parishes. Between 1893 and 1895 he was frequently sent to the government at Ottawa to see justice done in the Catholic school question of the West. He was part of the government commission entrusted with making a treaty with the natives (1899) and traveled to Hungary (1900) and to Austria (1904) to enlist Ruthenian rite priests. In 1909 he founded a hospital at Midnapore, Alberta. He was the author of many important works in the native language.

Bibliography: k. hughes, Father Lacombe: The Black-Robe Voyageur (New York 1911). Le Père Lacombe d'après ses memoires par une soeur de la Providence (Montreal 1916). p. e. breton, The Big Chief of the Prairies: The Life of Father Lacombe (Montreal 1956).

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Albert Lacombe

Albert Lacombe (1827-1916) was a Canadian missionary priest and one of the great figures of the early Canadian West. A supporter of the Indians and Métis, he founded schools, churches, and industrial institutions.

Albert Lacombe was born in Saint-Sulpice, Quebec, on Feb. 28, 1827, and educated at L'Assomption College. In 1849 he was ordained into the priesthood and joined the Oblate order as a missionary priest. His field was to be the Canadian West, and Lacombe was quickly on the way. His first year was spent at Pembina, a rough forest mission that served the Métis, a half-breed population of Assiniboia, and here he experienced all the hardships and glories of the country: the buffalo hunt, the seriocomic raids of pillaging Indians, the rough life of the time.

"Black-robe Voyageur"

After a brief visit to Montreal in 1850 Lacombe was soon on his way west once again, this time to Ft. Edmonton, the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company in the Far West. With Edmonton as his base, the priest was soon roaming the whole West, visiting the Peace River country, trying patiently to convert the Blackfeet Indians, founding colonies for the Métis. The man's energy was phenomenal, and Lacombe was clearly an organizational genius. At his colony of Saint-Albert he built the first bridge west of the Red River, a minor marvel of engineering that became known to the Métis as "The Bridge." Similarly he organized cart trains to move goods from the Red River westward in an effort to defeat the company's monopoly and consequent high rates. And everywhere he encouraged his people to break the plains to the plow and plant wheat. For years this life of toil continued for Lacombe. There were triumphs as Indian tribes were converted and pacified; there were disasters when smallpox ravaged whole settlements.

Lacombe did not return east until 1872, and after visits to Europe he came back to become the parish priest of St. Mary's in Winnipeg and was intimately involved in the lingering aftermath of the first Riel rebellion. By 1880, as the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) began to cross the plains, Lacombe was on the move again, this time as chaplain to the CPR's rough construction camps, and by 1884 he was in Calgary, once again founding industrial schools.

There was more excitement soon, for the second Riel rebellion burst on the West in 1884 and 1885. Lacombe was instrumental in persuading the Blackfeet not to join in the revolt, and soon after he was in Ottawa trying to persuade the government to grant amnesty to the Cree and Métis who had joined the rebel Louis Riel. By 1890 he was involved in the question of schools in Manitoba, and the old priest found himself deeply involved in partisan politics for the first time. For the rest of his life he was in a working retirement, and he remained active and alert until his death at Midnapore, Alberta, on Dec. 12, 1916. Sometimes called the "Black-robe Voyageur," he had been instrumental in the opening of the West.

Further Reading

A biography of Lacombe is by Katherine Hughes, Father Lacombe, the Black-robe Voyageur (1911). Some information on his life is in George Francis Stanley, The Birth of Western Canada (1960). See also R. G. MacBeth, The Romance of Western Canada (1918). □